Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Eclipse (L'Eclisse) (1962)



Ukendte Nætter
L’Eclisse is the third movie in a series by Michelangelo Antonioni that started with L’Avventura and La Notte. It is not immediately apparent that this is a trilogy, there is no continuing story or overlap in characters, but thematically they are quite similar. They all deal with emotional emptiness.

When you read a synopsis describing a movie as inaccessible and without a logical plot it is usually time to get worried and I was, going into this one. This is not what I normally look for in a movie. Fortunately I had already watched the other two movies so I was acclimatized to Antonioni’s particular style and with that synopsis I feared the worst and that is actually a good place to be. It can only get better than expected.

I actually found it more coherent than the previous two movies. It did not feel as if the movie was searching, but missing, a storyline, because it did not pretend to have much. Instead it was full of impressions, pictures expressing that particular emotion the movie seeks to convey. That is much less stressful for me as I do not have to try to make sense of what I am watching.

Monica Vitti is back as a woman, Vittoria, who is breaking up with her boyfriend, Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). We have no idea why, but apparently they have been talking or arguing all night. Vittoria is determined to end this, but Riccardo is more reluctant. Leaving Riccardo, Vittoria is entering a vacuum. Her apartment is empty. Her modern neighborhood is cold and sterile. For a while she fills up the space with two friends, dreaming they are in Africa, but it is just that, an escape.

Vittoria’s mother is playing with money on Rome’s stock exchange and as Vittoria go there to seek out her mother (Lilla Brignone) we are introduced to that crazy place. This is a hectic and surreal place where money is made or lost in minutes and everybody are leaning on a heart attack. It is here Vittoria meets Piero (Alain Delon) and somehow they start hanging out together.

Piero completely embraces consumerism. He lives in the present, concerned with work, buying things and doing what he wants, when he wants it. Not an unpleasant guy at all, but very different from the hesitant and thoughtful Vittoria who has no idea what she wants and who seems to second guess herself in anything she does. It feels like archetypical man and woman profiles and that may be intended. She soon gets frustrated with him because he seems shallow and he gets frustrated with her because he cannot figure out what she wants. It is a wonder they are still together at the end of the movie.

Speaking of which, the movie is famous for an ending entirely without the two protagonists. That was not as special as the hype made it, but did serve effectively to underline the empty waiting that Vittoria experiences.

I think limbo or emotional vacuum is the overriding theme of the movie, even more than in the previous movies. You can fill up your life with money, work or consumption, but is that enough? Can you love someone, or force yourself to love someone and have that fill your life? All these people are clearly lacking something.

Maybe it is just me who is a bit naïve, but looking at these three movies there is something missing in all of them: children. To name procreation as the meaning of life is a little too biological even for me, but from personal experience I can definitely say that getting children of your own gives plenty of purpose, one way or the other. That may be what these very modern Italians are missing.

L’Eclisse is a beautifully made movie with every picture thought out and full of details. Technically the stock exchange scenes are brilliant and they capture the primal energy perfectly. As does the soundtrack that must have inspired countless later movies. A detail I liked very much was the juxtaposition of very new and very old, but then again, that is Rome.

This is not a movie I would recommend to everybody, but if you know what you are going into, you will not be let down by this one.

 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sanjuro (1962)



Off-List: Sanjuro
As I will be doing a few times in 1962 I am moving off-list to review movies that should have been included. This, the first one, is Akira Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro”.

“Sanjuro” is the sequel to “Yojimbo”, which I reviewed off-list for 1961. It is again a strong movie, but to put it bluntly, not up there with “Yojimbo”. It does all the right things and on its own I love it, but the problem here is that is it a sequel and as such suffers from some of the usual problems with sequels. First and foremost that Yojimbo is a damn good movie and very difficult to match. It simply pales in comparison. Secondly, it is a bit too obvious that with Toshiro Mifune’s character, the ronin Sanjuro, Kurosawa had found a winning formula that had to be explored/milked for what it was worth. That always leaves me with a bitter taste.

Having said that, there is no doubt that “Sanjuro” is a great movie. I did have a great time watching it, even if I expected more.

While the ronin character is the same, the plotline is a bit different from “Yojimbo”. This time Sanjuro walks into a feud between a decent chamberlain and a corrupt superintendent. Not two groups of warring gangsters, but a good side and a bad side. The chamberlain’s supporters have been complaining about corruption and in the process brought the chamberlain’s life in danger. Sanjuro now joins the supporters in their effort to free the chamberlain and get back at the corrupt superintendent Kikui (Masao Shimizu).

Trouble is, these supporters are complete clowns. They may be samurai with top-knots and swords and everything, but they act like confused geese.  Without Sanjuro they would have been completely lost. When they act on their own advice they get in trouble, but when they follow Sanjuro’s advice they accomplish remarkable things.

Sanjuro is the same lonely ronin from “Yojimbo”. Crude, impolite, but with his heart in the right place. Oh, and a totally awesome swordsman.  The main difference from “Yojimbo” is that Sanjuro is now more concerned with preventing death rather than causing death, even among the bad guys. Not that it really stops him when it is necessary, he still kills with lightning speed, but with a regret that he did not have in “Yojimbo”.

It is also clear that “Sanjuro” is a lighter movie than the dark “Yojimbo”. A movie between good and bad guys have one side pegged as the winners from the beginning. It is never really brought in doubt. When Sanjuro gets in trouble it is never serious trouble and there are a number of places where we are encouraged to laugh, especially of the nine clowns Sanjuro is helping.

The movie works, it is funny when it wants to be and dramatic when it aims in that direction, but I guess I miss that darkness and gritty ambience that “Yojimbo” had. You could still laugh at “Yojimbo”, but it was a more cynical laugh, a bitter laugh. In “Sanjuro” there is no bitterness left, instead you laugh at them clowning around. However I have to give it that the ending is the most awesome one I have seen in year. If you have not seen it I will not ruin it, only say that it is spectacular.

I hope I have not given the impression that “Sanjuro” was a poor movie, because it is not. It just had some pretty big shoes to fill and I would happily watch it again. After revisiting “Yojimbo, that is.

 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no Aji) (1962)

 
 
En eftermiddag i efteråret
It has been a few days since my last review through no fault of this movie. My wife and I went on a small trip to Warsaw, Poland to escape the oppressive heat and I decided not to bring along any movies. Probably a smart choice. Yasujiro Ozu’s “An Autumn Afternoon” (“Sanma no aji”) is not a movie you want to rush through in a plane, but something to enjoy quietly and slowly at home. Doing that is a very rewarding experience.

Let me say right from the start that this is the best Ozu movie I have watched. There are no big dramas, no shouting, no action whatsoever and only the thinnest of plots. Instead this is a beautiful portrait of an older man who realizes that his children are growing up and he is getting old. It is sympathetic to its characters and entirely free of melodrama, but with precise insight into the feelings the characters go through and it is just so beautifully made, like a Japanese flower arrangement: Aesthetic, restrained and insightful.

The older man is Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu). He is a widower with three grown children of which the oldest Koichi (Keiji Sada) is married and live in another apartment with his wife. Hirayama attends a class reunion together with his old friends, one of which is Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura). They have invited one of their old teachers Sakuma who is having a grand time and gets a bit tipsy. When they drive him home they realize that he is actually a sad old man making noodles with his old and bitter daughter. For Hirayama this is a wake-up call. He can see himself ending like Sakuma, old and destitute and clinging on to his daughter. Kawai is urging him to marry off his daughter, but Hirayama has not been busy and Michiko (Shima Iwashita), his daughter, has not been busy either, but content to run the house for her brother and father. As Hirayama has seen what the future has in store for him he is set in motion and so is Michiko.

This feeble summary does not sound at all inspired, but in the movie it works perfectly. Hiroyama is a jovial fellow and this group of middle aged man is very sweet. They are a bunch of pranksters like overgrown boys, but obviously also men of some importance, managers and that sort of people. It is hard for them to accept that they have grown old, but face it they must.

Hirayama’s children are balancing between tradition and modernity and it is very interesting to watch them handling this balance. Traditional family values versus modern independence. Conspicuous consumption against traditional prudence. And as becomes the key event of the movie, the mechanisms of marriage. They are caught between the modern way of falling in love with someone they meet themselves and arranged marriage set up by their parents. This theme has been explored before and after and is usually a very loud affair, but not here. Here we can see that both father and daughter are very uncertain about the whole thing. Michiko has fallen in love with someone, but has not dared to ask him, and Hiroyama has not dared to ask her what she wants. All this hesitation means that opportunities slip away and that is the real risk with Sakuma’s fate lurking on the horizon.

Ozu is brilliant at catching these underplayed emotions and really show what a high context culture the Japanese is. Sometimes it is just a glance, sometimes a shy laughter, the misery in a cup of sake or the longing look at some golf clubs.

The calmness is supported by Ozu’s unique style of filming. He was the master of the static camera, placed on the floor and usually with some sort of framing. It is absolutely beautiful in color and somehow drags the rush out of the movie so we as viewers give ourselves time to take in the story. As a composition Ozu was never better and when we get to the last scene with Hirayama, drunk in his wedding suit singing old wartime songs, we absolutely understand him.

I can only recommend this movie. This was the last one Ozu ever did, but it makes me want to seek out some of his earlier movies not on the list. Watch this, but do yourself a favor and make sure all is quiet around you when you watch it.